The Fig Tree Withers Part 1

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

11-25-03


Title: The Fig Tree Withers

Text: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.”
(Matthew 21:21).


Bible Reading: Matthew 21:18-22

18 Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.
19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.
20 And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!
21 Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.
22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

There are just 5 verses to our text, but they can teach us a lot about faith, and works, and prayer. We can even speak of the reaction of the disciples to the miracle, and the humanity of Christ. Many people say that the fig tree represents the nation of Israel, so we could talk about that. But instead, I will attempt to show you how important it is for a Christian to bear fruit, that is, to have good works that can be seen by others. Therefore, let’s look at each verse, in turn, beginning with the eighteenth.


18 Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.

The first thing that we find out is that Christ returned in the morning to Jerusalem. He probably spent the night with friends in Bethany, which at that time was about 2 miles away. That’s where His friend Lazarus lived, along with his sisters Mary and Martha. Some people think that he left the city because none of his friends there willing to have him in their home, for fear of the religious leaders who were His enemies. Yet, Jesus had work to do there, so he returned. Folks, let’s be like Jesus and let’s never be driven from serving our Lord, either by the wickedness of our enemies, or the unkindness of our friends. Although Jesus knew that in this city danger was waiting for him, He didn’t let it stop Him.

Another important thing we learn in this verse is that Jesus was hungry. This proves that He was a genuine man and He had the same physical needs that we do. He was an active Man, and He was so intent upon his work, that he neglected to eat. He was a poor Man, so He wasn’t carrying any food with Him. He was a Man that didn’t focus on pleasing Himself; therefore, He would gladly eat raw figs, if they were handy. The next verse says:


19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.

I have never seen a fig tree, but our story caused me to want to know what they’re like, so I did some research. I discovered that a fig tree seldom grows above twelve feet, but we would describe it as being “full”, since there are many spreading branches, beginning at the bottom. The fig tree fruit generally appears in February, but the leaves are not formed until late spring. Therefore, there should have been some fruit on the tree. The leaves have a dark green color, and they’re almost 9” long. They are smooth and unevenly divided into three to five deep rounded lobes; and the fruit grows on short, thick stalks, that have a purplish color, and contain a soft, sweet, fragrant pulp, intermixed with numerous small seeds.

We know that Jesus was hungry, and when He saw the fig tree at some distance away, and that it was decked out with green leaves, He went to it expecting to find some fruit. But there was nothing but leaves. The leaves presented a false picture, indicating that fruit not only was present but that it was large and ripe. At that time all fruit trees were enclosed by a fence, and they had an owner. Therefore, even though this tree was by the roadside, it must have been enclosed. Passers by would help themselves to the fruit on the limbs that hung over the wall. A good owner wouldn’t object to this since it was a way to provide for the poor. But, in this case, the owner had probably shaken the fruit off and gathered it himself. There was not so much as one fig to be found on this tree, even though it was full of leaves.

What did Jesus do? He made an example of it; not for the trees, but for the disciples and the Jews of that generation, and also for us. He cursed it with a curse which is the reverse of the first blessing, where God said: “Be fruitful.” Jesus said to it, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.” The curse resulted in the almost immediate withering of the entire tree.

Friends, even though trees are non-moral, they, like all of nature, are subject to the word of Christ. Jesus’ curse upon the fruitless tree was not the result of a quick temper; instead, He used the occasion as an object lesson against hypocrisy and misrepresenting the truth. Please observe what the lessons are that Jesus taught with the example of the fig tree.

FIRST, concerning hypocrites, there may be four points to the lesson.
1. Those fig trees that have leaves should be expected to have fruit. Likewise, when we look at a person who has made a profession of faith, we can expect to see the power of God in their life.If a person desires to show their religion, we should also be able to see good deeds to accompany their words.
2. Jesus has certain expectations from those who are professing to be Christians. But, I believe He is often frustrated and disappointed. He comes to many Christians, seeking fruit, but He finds leaves only. Many people today say they are Christians, but they don’t live for Jesus. The Bible says that they have a form of godliness, and yet deny the power of it.
3. A Christian who is barren of the fruit of “good works” is punished with the curse of barrenness. Jesus may say to those who are barren, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.” One of the greatest blessings was the first one; “Be fruitful.” But one of the saddest curses is, “Be no more fruitful.” This is the way the sin of hypocrisy is punished; those who would not do good now, will not do good in the future. Jesus may say to the man or woman that is fruitless, “Be fruitless still.”
4. A false and hypocritical profession of faith withers away in this world, and the cause is Christ’s curse. Let’s repeat that…

The fig-tree that had no fruit soon lost its leaves. Hypocrites may look believable for a time, but, they have no godly principles, no root in themselves. Their profession will soon amount to nothing, their gifts wither away, and their poise and charm will decay. The credit that they are given for their faith declines and sinks and everyone begins to see their falseness and foolishness.

Next, there are at least two lessons here concerning misrepresenting the truth.
1. Can you even imagine how great a disappointment the nation of Israel was to Jesus? He came to them, expecting to find some fruit, something that would be pleasing to Him. But his expectations were stymied; he found nothing but leaves. They called Abraham their father, but they did not do the works of Abraham.
They claimed to be looking for the promised Messiah, but, when he came, they did not receive him. They were practicing hypocrisy, and it disappointed our Lord.
2. There was the curse that He placed on them; that never would any fruit grow upon them or be gathered from them, as a church or as a people, from henceforward for ever. There has never been any good come from the Jewish people (except for those particular persons among them that believe).

After they rejected Christ; they became worse and worse. Blindness and hardness came about them, as the result of the curse, and it grew, until they were unchurched, and undone, and their place and nation were rooted up. Their privileges and possessions, their temple, and priesthood, and sacrifices, and festivals, and all the glories of their church and nation fell like leaves in autumn. Their fig-tree withered away, after they said, “His blood be on us, and our children!”


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